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Ableism /ˈblɪzəm/ (also known as ablism,[1] disablism (Brit. English), anapirophobia, anapirism, and disability discrimination) is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled.[2] On this basis, people are assigned or denied certain perceived abilities, skills, or character orientations. Discrimination faced by those who have or are perceived to have a mental disorder is sometimes called mentalism rather than ableism.

There are stereotypes associated with various disabilities. These stereotypes in turn serve as a justification for ableist practices and reinforce discriminatory attitudes and behaviors toward people who are disabled.[3] Labeling affects people when it limits their options for action or changes their identity.[4]

In ableist societies, people with disabilities are viewed as less valuable, or even less than human. The eugenics movement of the early 20th century could be considered an example of widespread ableism. The mass murder of disabled in the German Nazi Government's Aktion T4 could be an extreme example of ableism.

Other definitions of ableism include those of Chouinard, who defines it as "ideas, practices, institutions, and social relations that presume able-bodiedness, and by so doing, construct persons with disabilities as marginalized … and largely invisible 'others'",[5][6] and of Amundson and Taira, who define ableism as "a doctrine that falsely treats impairments as inherently and naturally horrible and blames the impairments themselves for the problems experienced by the people who have them".[5][7]


Originated from -able (in disable, disabled) and plus -ism; first known use in 1985-1990.[8][9]


Within communities of people with disabilities, there is disagreement about whether referring to themselves as "disabled" counts as internalized ableism. These groups may prefer the terms "non-neurotypical" or "neurodivergent" for mental divergences. When referring to people with disabilities, there are two methods: person-first language and disability-first language. The American Psychological Association (APA) advocates using person-first language.[10] This might look like "a person who is blind". The idea behind this method is to make the person the focus, and not their disability.[10] On the other hand, disability-first language involves referring to the disability first when addressing someone, for example, "a blind person".[11] Although the APA advocates for the person-first language, the disability first language may be preferred by people who feel their disability is part of their identity. Some may find that using person-first language separates disability as part of their identity.[11] Preference between person-first language and disability-first language can vary per person and disability groups.[11]

Slang words used to describe people with disabilities that are usually considered disparaging include "cripple", "daft", "dim-witted", "feeble-minded", "idiotic", "madman", and "retarded".[12]

Action T4 (1939-1945)[edit]

Hitler signed decree authorizing the secret euthanasia program in autumn 1939 to kill selected patients with chronic neurological, psychiatric disorders. This program took the lives of about 70,000 men, women and children with disabilities; when ashes from the crematorium of euthanasia centre in Hadamar fell on neighboring streets once after rain, this program was officially halted by Hitler in 1941 under public pressure, but, in fact, this program was continued unofficially, and another 200,000 disabled people were killed until the fall of fascist regime in 1945.

The smoke from the crematorium of the euthanasia center in Hadamar

Except Germany, Austria, and other surrounding territories of so-called "the Reich proper" where the Action T4 was in function, fascist forces also killed thousands of disabled patients on the occupied territories in Poland, Soviet Union, but they did this just under order to kill "life unworthy of life", and it was carried out by SS and other fascist military units; after killing disabled patients in hospitals, fascists used emptied facilities for munitions stores and like that, but one hospital in Poland, in Tiegenhof, near Gnesen, when its patients were killed, was used for the T4 program.[13][14]


United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, disability discrimination became unlawful as a result of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and, later, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. These were later repealed but the substantive law is replicated in the Equality Act 2010. Under the Equality Act 2010 there are several types of discrimination that are prohibited. These are direct discrimination (s.13(1) Equality Act 2010), indirect discrimination (s.6 and s.19 Equality Act 2010, harassment (s.26 Equality Act 2010), victimisation (s.27(2) Equality Act 2010), discrimination arising from disability (s.15(1) Equality Act 2010) and failure to make reasonable adjustments (s.20 Equality Act 2010).

The legal definition of disability is:

"A person (P) has a disability if P has a physical or mental impairment, and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities". (Section 6(1), Equality Act 2010)

Some conditions (such as blindness, AIDS and cancer) are expressly included; others (such as drug and alcohol addictions) are expressly excluded.

United States[edit]

Until the 1970s, ableism in the United States was often codified into law. For example, in many jurisdictions, so-called "ugly laws" barred people from appearing in public if they had diseases or disfigurements that were considered unsightly.[15][16]

Section 504 and other sections of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) enacted into law certain civil penalties for failing to make public places comply with access codes known as the ADA Access Guidelines (ADAAG); this law also helped expand the use of certain adaptive devices, such as TTYs (phone systems for the hearing/speech impaired), some computer-related hardware and software, wheelchair ramps or lifts on public transportation and curb-cuts at intersections which allow wheelchairs and their users to safely move between sidewalks and crosswalks. In addition, these laws prohibit direct discrimination against disabled people in government programs, employment, public transit and public accommodations like stores and restaurants.

The building modification provisions of these directives apply to three general categories of buildings: existing government administration buildings and structures regardless of age; all newly constructed buildings and structures intended for use as public accommodations like stores and restaurants; significantly renovated or refurbished buildings and structures and any public accommodation where the cost of modification is slight when compared with the income it generates. The US government also offered significant tax incentives to businesses to make these modifications.

The federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of disability and requires that newly constructed multi-family housing meet certain access guidelines while requiring landlords to allow disabled persons to modify existing dwellings for accessibility.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996,[17] Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Air Carriers Access Act, Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act and others have codified the notion that persons with disabilities have some of the same rights and privileges as other citizens.[18]


In addition to the federal protections provided by the ADA, California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) provides additional protections to California employees. Notably, FEHA applies to employers with 5 or more employees and offers more extensive protection than the ADA.[19]

Empirical evidence[edit]

In 2014, a large correspondence experiment to measure disability discrimination was conducted in Belgium by professor Stijn Baert of Ghent University. Two applications of graduates, identical except that one revealed a disability (blindness, deafness or autism), were both sent out to 768 vacancies for which the disabled candidates could be expected to be as productive as their non-disabled counterparts, based on the vacancy information. In addition, the researcher randomly disclosed the entitlement to a substantial wage subsidy in the applications of the disabled candidates. Disabled candidates had a 48% lower chance to receive a positive reaction from the employer side compared with the non-disabled candidates. Potentially due to the fear of the red tape, disclosing a wage subsidy did not affect the employment opportunities of disabled candidates.[20]


  • Barriers, such as poor access to transport and buildings for people with disabilities
  • People with disabilities are often excluded from cultural and social norms that afford pleasure (sex, sex education, sexual health, marriage).[21]
  • Institutionalizing[22]
  • Denialism, a tendency to dismiss the existence of a disorder or condition or to downplay its debilitating effects[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oxford University Press, "Oxford Dictionaries Online: 'ableism'", Oxford Dictionaries Online, Retrieved 12 March 201h.
  2. ^ Linton, Simi (1998). Claiming Disability Knowledge and Identity. New York: New York University Press. p. 9. 
  3. ^ Wüllenweber, Ernst; Theunissen, Georg; Mühl, Heinz (2006). Pädagogik bei geistigen Behinderungen: ein Handbuch für Studium und Praxis (Education for intellectual disabilities: A manual for study and practice) (in German). W. Kohlhammer Verlag. p. 149. ISBN 3-17-018437-7. Retrieved January 17, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Geistige Behinderung - Normtheorien nach Speck und Goffman". Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  5. ^ a b Campbell 2009, p. 5.
  6. ^ Chouinard 1997, p. 380.
  7. ^ Amundson & Taira 2005, p. 54.
  8. ^ "ableism". Merriam-Webster. n.d. Retrieved 2018-01-26. 
  9. ^ "ableism". n.d. Retrieved 2018-02-10. 
  10. ^ a b Dunn, Dana S.; Andrews, Erin E. (2015). "Person-first and identity-first language: Developing psychologists' cultural competence using disability language". American Psychologist. 70 (3): 255–264. doi:10.1037/a0038636. PMID 25642702. 
  11. ^ a b c Anne, Primeau, Casey (2016-01-01). "Person-First Language: Difficulties and Solutions with Putting People First". 
  12. ^ "Autistic Hoya: Ableism/Language". Retrieved 2016-05-17. 
  13. ^ Pascal (2016-01-07). "Aktion T4 – Tiergartenstrasse 4, Berlin, Germany". LandmarkScout. Retrieved 2018-02-10. 
  14. ^ "Euthanasia program". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 2018-02-10. 
  15. ^ Brown, Patricia Leigh (August 20, 2000). "Viewing Ahab and Barbie Through the Lens of Disability". The New York Times
  16. ^ "Cengage Learning". 
  17. ^ "The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and People With Disabilities | Federal Communications Commission". Retrieved 2016-02-16. 
  18. ^ "A Guide to Disability Rights Laws". 
  19. ^ "Disability Discrimination". Retrieved 2012-10-06. 
  20. ^ Baert, S. (2016) Wage Subsidies and Hiring Chances for the Disabled: Some Causal Evidence. European Journal of Health Economics, 17, 71-86.
  21. ^ Linton, Simi (1998). Claiming Disability Knowledge and Identity. New York: New York University Press. p. 111. 
  22. ^ "Attitudes toward people with disabilities". The Center on Human Policy. Syracuse University. 2010. Archived from the original on 2011-02-27. 
  23. ^ Daalen-Smith, Cheryl Van. "‘My mom was my left arm’: the lived experience of ableism for girls with spina bifida." Contemporary nurse 23.2 (2007): 262-273


  • Amundson, Ron; Taira, Gayle (2005). "Our Lives and Ideologies: The Effects of Life Experience on the Perceived Morality of the Policy of Physician-Assisted Suicide" (PDF). Journal of Policy Studies. 16 (1): 53–57. doi:10.1177/10442073050160010801. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-12-28. 
  • Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari (2001). "Inciting Legal Fictions: Disability Date with Ontology and the Ableist Body of the Law". Griffith Law Review. 10 (1): 42–62. 
  • Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari (2009). Contours of Ableism: The Production of Disability and Abledness. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-57928-6. 
  • Chouinard, Vera (1997). "Making Space for Disabling Difference: Challenges Ableist Geographies". Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 15: 379–387. 
  • Griffin, Pat; Peters, Madelaine L.; Smith, Robin M. (2007). "Ableism Curriculum Design". In Adams, Maurianne; Bell, Lee Anne; Griffin, Pat. Teaching for diversity and social justice. 1 (2nd ed.). Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-95199-9. 
  • Marshak, Laura E.; Dandeneau, Claire J.; Prezant, Fran P.; L'Amoreaux, Nadene A. (2009). The School Counselor's Guide to Helping Students with Disabilities. Jossey-Bass teacher. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-17579-8. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Campbell, Fiona A. Kumari (2008). "Refusing Able(ness): A Preliminary Conversation about Ableism". M/C Journal. 11 (3). 
  • Clear, Mike (1999). "The "Normal" and the Monstrous in Disability Research". Disability & Society. 14 (4): 435–448. doi:10.1080/09687599926055. 
  • Hehir, Thomas (2005). "Eliminating Ableism in Education". In Katzman, Lauren I. Special education for a new century. Harvard educational review. 41. Harvard Educational Review. ISBN 978-0-916690-44-1. 
  • Iwasaki, Yoshitaka; Mactavish, Jennifer (2005). "Ubiquitous Yet Unique: Perspectives of People with Disabilities on Stress". Rehabilitation Counselling Bulletin. 48 (4): 194–208. doi:10.1177/00343552050480040101. 
  • Watts, Ivan Eugene; Erevelles, Nirmala (2004). "These Deadly Times: Reconceptualizing School Violence by Using Critical Race Theory and Disability Studies". American Educational Research Journal. 41 (2): 271–299. doi:10.3102/00028312041002271. JSTOR 3699367. 
  • Walter Fandrey: Krüppel, Idioten, Irre: zur Sozialgeschichte behinderter Menschen in Deutschland (Cripples, idiots, madmen: the social history of disabled people in Germany) (in German) ISBN 978-3-925344-71-8
  • Susan Schweik: The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (History of Disability), ISBN 0-8147-8361-9
  • James K. Shaver: Handicapism and Equal Opportunity: Teaching About the Disabled in Social Studies, ISBN 978-0-939068-01-2

External links[edit]